By Keith Nobles
The AMC Pacer was one of the most distinctive cars of the 1970’s. The bubble shape and the decision that 37% of the surface area should be glass fashioned a unique look for the car. AMC touted the Pacer as “the first wide small car.” AMC made the rare admission prior to production that most people may not like the car. Car and Driver dubbed it “The Flying Fishbowl.” CBS would later proclaim the Pacer as one of the “World’s 15 Ugliest Cars.”
The first Pacer hit the showroom floors in February of 1975, but design had started in 1971. The initial design called for a Wankel (rotary) engine. That idea was abandoned in favor of a new series of engines to be built by General Motors. GM then abandoned the development of the new line of engines and when the Pacer was finally produced it featured the existing straight six and small V8 engines that AMC had been building for quite a while.
When it was introduced the Pacer was marketed as an all new type of car. All new did not equate into popular, much to the disappointment of AMC. Still, the Pacer sold a respectable 145,528 units in the first model year it was available. The fate of the Pacer can be illustrated by noting that, during the five-year production run, only 280,000 Pacers were built. More than half of all Pacers ever sold were sold during the first model year.
While the Pacer had a unique style and incorporated some technological advancements (it was only the second American car with rack-and-pinion steering) the economics of the situation compelled the use of older technologies at a time that Japanese cars were using more advanced technologies and manufacturing methods to produce superior cars. For example, the Honda Accord competed directly with the Pacer in the small-car market. The Accord had a list price $400 higher than the Pacer, but the Accord got double the gas mileage while also having better acceleration. AMC increasingly failed to compete and eventually Pacer sales fell off to next to nothing and the model was cancelled.
The Pacer has recovered value as a collectible car. Not many Pacers were deemed worthy of maintaining, particularly after AMC went out of business. They are a fairly rare car now and some examples have recently fetched as much as $37,000 at auction.